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(Movie Review by Aaron Carr) “This ain’t our spot.” D pleads to his brother DJ (Columbus Short) in the first scenes of “Stomp the Yard.” DJ’s team has just defeated their rival, but DJ strongly argues that it is not enough as he initiates another dance off. With even more money on the line, the second battle will be even grizzlier than the first. They line up, and it’s on. The two teams dance in each other’s faces, violently, flaring their hands with intricate movements. Their feet hit the floor quickly, energetically and without a doubt, powerfully. These guys know what they are doing; the dance is mesmerizing. And what do you know; DJ’s team pulls off another win. The victory, however, is short lived. The rivals want their money back. A surprise attack: knuckles into noses, bricks into heads and a piece of lead through a torso. D is shot and killed. DJ cries in distress, as he holds his dying brother in his arms.
But wait, time out; this can’t be the introduction. Surely, this is a movie’s middle. Who is DJ? Who is D? Were they always devoted to each other? Do they live in the ghetto? How did they help each other get through the ghetto? And how does step relate to their lives? It would be nice to know this because, well, without it my emotions are left untouched, and this is fatal since DJ’s regret over his brother’s death is a major theme in the film. A proper first act is missing in “Stomp the Yard,” and as the movie develops, this becomes a nuisance in understanding any of the characters’ motives.
Returning to the plot: DJ first gets an assault charge for the brawl and later, as part of the healing process, is sent to college with the encouragement of his sweet aunt and slow-to-love uncle. DJ is a tough “ghetto boy,” as some of the students refer to him, but it becomes clear he has a soft spot for a girl named April (Meagan Good). He sees her for the first time while waiting in line for college registration, and proceeds to run out of line and chivy on after her. What a logic loophole — DJ is an angry roughneck who is unresponsive to human nature, but now he is skipping to the love of his life without ever having had a conversation with her first.
I am confused … is DJ on pharmaceuticals? Or maybe he has always had a soft spot for women; they bring out the good side in him, perhaps. Or maybe a proper introduction could have been nailed down so I wouldn’t have to use the phrase “maybe” so many times. I got bored of watching DJ. What is going on in DJ’s noggin? I want to know this.
“Stomp the Yard” is a surface movie that only goes around the edges, never showing us any form of sophisticated cinema. In “8 Mile,” Rabbit (played by Eminem) is a clone of DJ. The only difference is how director Curtis Hanson showed us the main character’s friends, family and most of all, his life. I got a full grasp of who he was. So when Rabbit went on stage to spill his heart out, I found myself crossing my fingers, just as if it were someone close to me. That’s character development. DJ’s character, on the other hand, is locked up in a safe, and no one knows the combination. Once again, I point my fingers at the introduction, since an introduction is a fantastic way of introducing a character, is it not?
Continuing on: DJ has a violent run in with a member of a step dancing fraternity, Grant, leading him to competition at the Phoenix Club. He shows off his skills, the fraternities are impressed and he even gets his crush April invigorated as well, unfortunately for us. After the night at Club Phoenix, he continues his tough guy ways, getting into several scraps with April’s boyfriend, who just so happens to be Grant. It becomes tedious. We feel that they should just get it over with and fight already. Then maybe during the fight, in a moment of Shakespearean tragedy, DJ, Grant, April, DJ’s uncle, DJ’s aunt, some unimportant side characters, the camera man and the unoriginal script all somehow die simultaneously, where the only thing left is the end credits slowly moving up the screen. I would then gasp, and springing out of my seat, as my 32-ounce drink spills on my lap, I would give a standing ovation, tears running down my face. Then my daydream ends as I come back to reality, sitting in my movie seat, flirting with the exit sign.
Back to the movie: The next day, members from Grant’s fraternity, Mu Gamma, approach DJ while he is at work on the college garden, and asks him to pledge. Oh, finally, maybe an interesting situation, I thought. This could be a great way for DJ and Grant to reconcile their differences while getting to understand their tough ass personalities. This was a golden chance to make a bad movie better; dialogue can accomplish these things. But, that won’t hold true in this movie. DJ doesn’t want to pledge for them. He instead chooses to pledge for the other frat, Theta, where we in fact do not and never will know any characters in it.
Now we are watching a movie in which the plot is basically focused on a single relationship — a dodo plot, as I like to call them — since the movie wants DJ and the girl to have a relationship in order to maintain “chick flick” material. Every move the movie now makes keeps that in mind. Let me further explain: One of the main themes in “Stomp the Yard” is brotherhood. The problem: we don’t know the brothers. I know what they look like, and, well, that’s about it. Then there’s DJ, who fails us painfully in many ways, like when he cries in the later scenes. I closed my eyes, back erect, hands clutched fiercely to the arm rest, for a rough ride of corniness as DJ suddenly decides to “stomp my face in” (maybe that’s what this movie should be called).
In “Remember the Titans,” we got to see characters that originally didn’t like each other work out their differences and then become a team. Maybe if “Stomp the Yard” made a plot move in that direction we would have something to work with. But if DJ did join Mu Gamma he would have to reconcile his differences with Grant (like I said a few lines up), who just happens to be dating the love of his life, April. That would not allow for the future “DJ and April” love scenes. And with this fact in mind, we now prematurely know that DJ and April will end up working out after all and yada yada yada … Predictable.
This dodo plot happens yet again in later scenes. Since in all sports movies there is always a last act conflict, DJ is not allowed to dance in the step competition. The school has found out about his assault charge, but there’s a hitch: the administrator, Dr. Palmer (who just happens to be April’s father), tells DJ that the only way he can still perform is if DJ stops dating his daughter. Now I am not sure what administrators are and are not allowed to do, but maybe it’s unrealistic to, oh, I don’t know, cut a deal with a student on the lines of him not dating your daughter. But anyway, the plot of dodo has to take this route because it needs to focus itself on the “MTV relationship,” and like I said, it will screw over any logic or drama to do so.
In lieu of the lack of verbal juice, drama appears in another category: step. It got my blood rushing, and encouraged me to learn more about it. I am sure many people will love “Stomp the Yard” just for that reason. On the other hand, the movie “Cinderella Man” has taught us a little more. In the film, Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe) wasn’t fighting for the sport of boxing. He was fighting for the sport of dealing with life, or as he puts it, “milk.” A primary factor in “Cinderella Man” is thoughtful meaning, and then comes the adrenaline inducing visuals of boxing. “Stomp the Yard” is a movie set solely upon the motive of winning. This is a great theme to walk out of a movie with, and then consider if it’s worth going back to the movies anymore.
Sylvain White (director) / Robert Adetuyi, Gregory Ramon Anderson (screenplay)
CAST: Columbus Short … DJ
Meagan Good … April
Ne-Yo … Rich Brown
Darrin Henson … Grant
Brian J. White … Sylvester
Laz Alonso … Zeke
Valarie Pettiford … Jackie
Jermaine Williams … Noel